Bob Malphus from Memphis, Tennessee
Bob Malphus had been in a motorcycle wreck long before I met him. The accident left him with a bad shoulder and only partial use of his right arm. Being a jack man, was a pretty good job for him as far as the physical work went, except he probably had a tough time unloading the truck.
He wasn’t an exceptional jack man, but he could sell a load when he wanted to, like when the wolf was knocking at the door, the rent was due or we were getting ready to move to a new town and he needed money for gas.
I liked Bob and looked out for him when ever I could. Being on the road, it is important to surround yourself with people you like and trust. I knew I could trust Bob.
Towards the end of July 1980, the crew was working St. Lake City, a beautiful place but we had been there for a month and it was time for me to move on. Without telling anyone where we were headed, Bob, my young nephew Glen and I loaded up two trucks one night and drove north up I-15, headed for Pocatello, Idaho about 300 miles north.
I had my nephew Glen with me in my truck, Bob drove his old Ford, only stopping when we saw a bar or two near the exit off of the Interstate. I believe we hit about five bars that night, drinking, dancing and playing pool. Glen was only fifteen years old, he had a hard time getting into most of places. We left him out in the parking lot most of the time; I’d bring him a beer or mixed drink ever so often just to check on him. Most of the time he had the truck loaded with gals. We only had “Lynyrd Skynrd” cassettes and when he played the tapes, it would draw a crowd. Seems like “Lynyrd Skynyrd” tapes were like Jack Daniels whiskey, hard to get, west of the Mississippi, but both were well liked and we traveled with plenty of both. We were “Down South Jukin, all the way.”
We finally arrived in Pocatello just about daylight, the sun was glaring through the windshield, and we were on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. I got us a room at the Quality Inn. Glen didn’t want to work; he was partied out, so he crawled on the bed and passed out. Bob and I figured that we would feel better after some vittles.
While we drinking a second cup of coffee at the local diner, some dudes were gathering around my truck that we had parked out front. They were inspecting our equipment. We nonchalantly sashayed out to the truck like we didn’t have a care in the world, when we approached the small crowd; some one asked us what kind of equipment was this, oilfield, garage, machine shop? We told them we didn’t know what it was for and then we both fell into our routine about being truck drivers from South Carolina sent out here on a mission to do an inventory and when the dealer was short on his stock, our boss told us to load up what he had left and try to peddle it to someone that could use it, if they got it cheap enough.
One old man said “We got a Green River Ordinance” out here. You can’t go around selling stuff door to door.” We told the old man “Oh no, we ain’t salesmen, we’re truck drivers. Our boss told us to load it up and show it to some boss man’s that can use it if they get it cheap enough and just get the iron cost and the “furbicating” out of it, you know, what it cost to build it. Can you use it, if you was to get it cheap enough?”
He replied “Sure I can, how much is it?” When he respond like that, we knew we had him. I told him, “Well I can tell you what they told me, but you got to call the office back home before we can unload it and they can tell you how to make out the check. Can you use it if you got it cheap enough?” The trick was to get the man to say yes he can use it, if it were cheap enough, because then he has to make you an offer of some kind.
I put him through our book, showed him the list price of every thing, finally coming to the band saw that listed for $5,984.00. I told him that “the boss said if you wanted it, he would knock 2 thousand dollars off of that there thing in the crate. He said it was an iron cutter. It’ll cut north and south or east and west and it spits oil on the blade. Then for helping him out, he’ll just give that there hoister that list for $2,995. And that there bearing machine that list for $3,295., to you for no charge.” Then I added “He told us that we could have all those small tools, like the big vise and the 8 inch grinder, the air impact tools and the socket sets and all of those brand new wrenches as a bonus, but between me and you mister, if you could help us out, we’ll give you all of those tools too, because to be honest with you, this ain’t our job, we just drive a truck and we get paid by the mile, right now, we’re on downtime, can you use it if you got it cheap enough?”
The old man studied on it a while, flipping through the pages of our catalogue. He seemed to be adding things up in his mind, just about then; I set fire to his ass. I told him “If you promise not to get us fired, I’ll help you get it real cheap. The boss ain’t seen it, so he don’t know, but when you get him on the phone, I can tell him it was bent up and damaged from a fork lift and that the roof was leaking and some of the stuff is starting to rust, but you got to back me up. Don’t get me fired, would it be worth some beer money to you mister if I can help you get it for cheap?”
That did it. A buyer is a liar. If you can get him to lie, you can get him to buy. We walked back into the diner, used their phone. He called the 1-800 number to the factory, which was actually a gal named Rita sitting on the back deck of her double wide on top of King’s Mountain, back in South Carolina. Rita was good as always, she closed him out for $2,500. We were happy with that. It wasn’t even 9 o’clock and we had made about $600.00 commission on the first pitch and got 20 bucks apiece to buy beer with.
He paid us cash, we unloaded the tools in the back of his truck and drove the two blocks back to the motel and spun “donuts” in the parking lot, trying to wake Glen up. No luck, he was sound asleep, I even tried throwing hundred dollar bills all over the bed, to wake him up, but he was out of it.
Bob and I were fired up, too fired up to go to bed, even though we were tired from drinking, dancing and driving most of the night. We jumped into Bob’s truck and were just gonna drive around and check out the scenery. We were surrounded by the Grand Teton Mountains, the lush green valleys were picturesque, and it was still early.
While we were driving down a farm road, checking out the potato farmers we drove up on a gal that was hitch hiking. Let me say this first, out west, girls hitch hike all the time. It’s just a custom that you don’t see any where else. Being from the south and not use to seeing pretty girls hitch, Bob slammed on the breaks and we offered her a ride, which she accepted. I got out and she slipped into the middle. I told her that where we were from, that was our custom.
She asked us what was on the back of the truck. She and her husband owned what we call down here, a junkyard but up there, they call it a “salvage yard.” She got to talking about how her husband could use that hoisting machine and maybe that metal cutting band saw (after we put her through the book). We stayed in character, as always and after taking her to the “salvage yard” got her to call Rita to make an offer.
She bought the band saw and the hoist for 2 thousand, she had the cash in a shoebox, and we gave her the 8 inch grinder (what we called an electric knife sharpener) for helping us out. She had called her husband before she made the deal, told him we “were some cool guys from down south, they even have “Lynyrd Skynyrd” tapes”, got his okay and then she gave us a bag of pot and a gram of coke.
What a start to a beautiful day, we had just made another 600 dollars, got a bag of weed and a gram of coke and it wasn’t even 11 am. We smoked a joint, Bob didn’t really like pot much, he preferred booze and after doing a bump, I traded him my share of the gram for his share of the pot. After this, we decided we would spend the rest of the day doing something fun.
We spotted a place where we could do some trail riding. We found a place that offered either horse back riding or motocross. The owner got to looking at the press that was lying in the back of the truck. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, Bob put him through the book and dropped it for eight hundred; the owner offered us our choice, ride for free either on motorcycles or horseback. We talked him into letting us do both. When the euphoria from the pot and the coke started to wear thin, we ended our ride, deciding it was time for some serious beer drinking. The guy at the stables told us we ought to check out the “Three T’s Tavern” it was suppose to be the biggest and best bar this side of the Rockies. He wasn’t lying.
The Three T’s Tavern was a huge “A frame” with a huge surrounding deck. It was starting to get dark when we went in. We danced, then played pool for a few hours and drank several pitchers of beer. Some girls we met started acting like they really liked our southern accents, but the guys they came in with seemed to want to dispute it.
I was wearing a hat similar to the one Indiana Jones wore in his movie, except mine had a rattlesnake skin hatband complete with a set of rattles. One of the guys kept calling me “Snake Shit.”
Ole Bob knew what was fixing to happen, he stood off to one side with a number 21 pool stick, gripping the skinny end. I took the cue ball in the palm of my hand and hit the guy in the forehead; he went down like a ton of lead and didn’t get back up. His two friends acted like they wanted to take up for him but Bob whopped both of them across the back so hard with that cue stick, that they couldn’t stand up straight after that.
That’s what I mean about trust. I could trust Bob. He had my back. I didn’t have to ask him, he just did it. You’d think that the beer tenders would tell us we had to leave, but the gals told them that we didn’t start it, besides we were the only ones there, that were breaking hundred dollar bills.
What a night, yeah, we had a great time dancing, drinking, shooting pool and we haven’t been to bed in over 36 hours. About midnight, we decided that we had enough for one day or was that two days? Anyway, we went back to the motel and we saw jack trucks every where, crowding the parking lot. We went to our room and there was every guy on the crew. Smoke filled the room, there wasn’t a sitting place to be had. Every body was so excited. Rita had relayed the information that we had dropped twice in one day in Pocatello, Idaho. These guys hadn’t seen any “naked” territory in a while and wanted to get a taste of it before Mike, Glen and Bob worked it all out.
They told me that the husband of the girl we dropped the band saw and hoist to, had been hanging around the motel with the tools loaded up in his truck. It seems like he had a change of heart and wanted his money and drugs back. “No way, Jose.” We took a couple loads off the trucks of guys that couldn’t sell and left town, we headed north. We told every body that we would see them in Butte, Montana.
Butte, Montana and the Continental Divide
All work and play with no sleep made Mike and Bob a couple of dull Jack men the next day. We tried and tried all day, working our way to Big Sky Country. We got off the main highway and pulled into a dry gulch for a couple hours of shut eye. When we woke up, we decided to just drive straight to Butte, trying to get there before dark. We did, arriving about four thirty, we saw a motel and went in and got a room. A couple blocks before the motel, we had passed a Chevrolet dealership that had a sign out front that said “Going out of business, AUCTION today, everything must go.
I knew that if I lay down, I was going to be out for a while, so before I did, I told Bob “Hey, let’s go check out that auction.” We weren’t there 10 minutes before we had an empty truck. We didn’t get much for it, I think we made about $250 bucks, a skinny deal, but at least it was off the truck. There’s no shame in heading for the motel, when you have an empty truck. When we pulled into the parking lot, the load on Bob’s truck stuck out like a sore thumb. We decided that we had enough left in us to give it another shot. We left Glen at the motel, Bob and I took his truck back to the auction. We told the guys there, that a “Mexican had wrote our boss a bad check.” It seemed to fit alright, the Anaconda Copper mine that had been in business for over a hundred years had just gone bankrupt. We sold the second truck load for a couple hundred more. We told the auctioneer, that “The boss ain’t gonna go for that bent and rusty tool scam twice.” So now, by the grace of God, we had two empty trucks as we headed back to the motel for some sleep.
After a few hours of much needed sleep, we were awakened by the sounds of the crew banging on our door, “Good Ole Rita. Man, what’s a guy got to do around here to get some rest?” I guess every one felt that we were on fire and wanted to be around us, hoping that some of the “magic” would wear off on them.
Well, that was it, no more rest that night. Jack tradition had it that who ever dropped that day would buy the beer for guys that didn’t, to keep morale from sinking too low. We usually traveled with anywhere from 15 to 20 men at any one time. It wouldn’t take long for the beer tab to add up to a considerable sum. Glen, Bob and I hatched a plan to go check out a local bar called “Del Mar” a couple of blocks away, between the motel and the Chevrolet Dealer.
Back in those days, liquor stores were on an allotment to be able to get “Jack Daniels,” west of the Mississippi. When ever I could get a case in big metroplexes, I did. I also would keep a bottle of “Black Velvet.” (You know, the cheap stuff for everybody else). Most of the bars and clubs were “B-O-B’s,” they sold set ups and beer and you had to be 21 to get in. Poor Glen was 15 years old.
When I first started traveling out west, the only fast dance song that bars had on the juke box, was Don William’s “Tulsa Time.” I know what you’re thinking, that ain’t fast, so now you know what we went through. When we went to the bar that night, it was a packed house. Bob and I hooked up with a couple pretty Indian gals right off. I was ordering set ups when Glen sat down at the table. The bar maid asked him for his ID. Glen looked at me and said “Uncle Mike, she asked me for my ID, what should I do?” I told him that if he wanted to party with us, he’d better handle it. The next time she asked him, he told her “F— Y– Bit–“. I got plenty of ID, now bring me a set up and leave my ass alone, then, he set a bottle of Jack Daniels on the table. She wasn’t going to throw anybody out that had a full bottle of Jack Daniels.
Ida Luna was the pretty Arapaho gal I was with and Bob was with a Navaho gal named Hilda. Don’t know why a Navaho girl was that far north but her and Bob hit it off pretty good. When we would go out to the truck during band breaks, I’d fill our empty bottle of “Jack” with “Black Velvet.” After two drinks the Indian girls couldn’t taste the difference and I didn’t want to waste all of my Jack Daniels. When we came back inside the bar, I gave the bartender a “Skynyrd” tape to play on the PA system. When they started singing “What’s your name little girl”, the place went wild, especially once they opened up with the line about “Boise Idaho.”
Those girls stuck to us like a coat of paint. Even Glen hooked up with two white chicks that liked the way he talked. Glen’s gals had a car, a green Maverick. He and a fellow named Lynn left with them. The girls that were with Bob and I, Ida and Hilda packed into the truck with us to show us the sights of Butte Montana after dark.
The town was drying up. Last year it had a population of over a hundred thousand, since the Anaconda Copper mine went belly up; it was down to around 30,000. When they told me that we were near the Continental Divide it turned me on. I wanted to be able to brag and say that “I’ve been on top” of the Continental Divide. The girls were off of the Blackfoot Indian Reservation about 350 miles north, the other side of Great Falls and the Glacier National Park. Near a place called Havre, Montana. They were “wards of the government”, only allowed to leave the reservation with permission. They had to call a 1-800 number every day and report their whereabouts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
They knew their way around Butte pretty good. We took a mining road up the side of the mountain facing town and at a railroad crossing, they told me to turn the truck and drive down the tracks. After about a quarter mile, we drove through a train tunnel. Oh yeah, it was a bumpy ride, when we came out, it was the most beautiful scenic setting you ever saw. We were almost on top of the mountain, the town of Butte nestled in the valley down below. Street lights and the lights of town glistened like rows of lights on a Christmas tree and above us was a cloudless sky, dotted with the millions of tiny lights from the Milky Way. “Big Sky.”
The big copper mine in Salt Lake was just a huge hole in the ground covering about 5 miles. The Anaconda Copper mine in Butte was a good sized mountain, its guts hollowed out by more than a 100 years of mining. The Anaconda was the next mountain over from our perch. Looking down on it in the dark, under the full moon, it looked almost ghostly.
We drove a little further, turning down the slope facing town, I left the rear wheels hooked across the train tracks to keep us from rolling down the steep hill. Bob and Hilda dropped the tailgate and a couple of peyote buttons, lying on top of a sleeping bag, facing the stars, while I took off my sheepskin lined Levi jacket, laid it on the hood for a pillow. Ida and I lay on the hood facing the lights of town, with the heat from the engine to keep us warm. It was perfect, absolutely perfect……. That is until I was right in the middle of trying to take care of business, when the screeching sound of a train whistle pierced the stillness of the night. Man don’t tell me I thought, oh no, here it comes. I know now, what David Allen Coe meant when he sang about “A damned ole train.”
Bob and Hilda weren’t a whole lot of help, they chewed up a couple of peyote buttons, and they thought that every thing was funny. Ida was pretty alright, but totally brainless, if you ask me, not much help. I tried to back up the slope, but the weight of the truck was facing down hill so, no traction. I couldn’t go down hill because I couldn’t get enough momentum going to get up over that steel rail of the train track. To make matters worse, I could see the light of the train coming through the tunnel. We didn’t have much time to “dilly with our dally.”
Since it was my truck, I didn’t want to trust anybody else behind the wheel or with their foot on the brake. I told Bob, Hilda and Ida to “get in the back of the truck for traction and hurry, ‘because there ain’t much time.” They did like I told them to, with the quickness. I started the truck and when I did, I put it in reverse and floored it, kicking rocks and gravel, sparks flying when they hit the bottom panel of the truck, it slowing started gaining traction and eased back up the hill. When I hit up against the other track, I dropped the gear lever into drive and with a sudden lurch, we crossed the track that was holding us back. The locomotive was so close that instead of shining on us, the headlight was shining over our heads, the noise from the whistle and the roar of the engine was so loud that I wasn’t sure when we left the track; if we did it under our own power or that the train had just knocked us clear.
That’s when the fun started. As soon as the truck gained traction, we were racing down hill. We went down one gully and jumped the next, an old sheep trail appeared under the headlights and I did my best to steer us down that path, but the truck, powered by inertia and gravity, had a mind of its own. I felt like I was coming out of chute number 2, with a 2000 lb. bull between my knees. Bob and the girls were still in the back. How they stayed in the truck, I haven’t a clue, but they did. After several hundred yards of free falling, and hurtling down the slope, the terrain leveled off and I was able to bring the truck to a stop.
Vanity being the better part of valor, I wanted to wait until daylight to get out of there, but those crazy Indian girls, wanted to do it again